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Top 5 wide receiver prospects before the NFL Combine

The Combine is approaching, which means it is time for positional rankings. Today, we rank the best wide receiver prospects, along with some sleepers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 Birmingham Bowl - Texas Tech v South Florida
Keke Coutee
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the defeat of the New England Patriots by the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles at Super Bowl LII, the 2017 NFL season is essentially in the books. Moreover, with the collegiate All-Star games in the rear view mirror, the 2018 NFL Draft season’s premier event, the NFL Combine, is just a few weeks away (February 27th). In the meantime, we take a look at some positional rankings of note for the 49ers prior to our Combine coverage. We kick things off with the wide receiver position.

Prior to last years’ hiring of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, the wide receiver position has been a bane to the skills position festering a continued yearly yearning from the fan base thirsting for a premier receiver in the molds of former 49er greats Jerry Rice and/or Terrell Owens. Although a premier receiver has not donned the Red and Gold in quite some time, thankfully, last years’ purging of the roster added new faces at the position and skill-sets destined to change the outlook of the woefully talent laden level the previous front office forced us to embrace.

Free agent wide receivers Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Aldrick Robinson, along with rookies Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne, were brought in to excel in Shanahan’s system, each providing a special niche in the offense collectively working towards success in the passing game. The emergence of Jimmy Garoppolo sky rocketed the passing game creating a resurgence of opportunities for the receiving corps to elevate their game, and that they did. Unfortunately, Garçon’s magnificent play early in the season was cut short due to injury, but the anticipated pairing of Garoppolo to Garçon is destined to be appetizing.

It appears the acquisitions of last years’ free agents are temporary fixes. Garçon’s contract lasts through 2021, but he will also be 32 years old in August, and unless contract extensions are reached, Goodwin and Robinson are playing their final season under contract this upcoming season. Free agency and trade options are possibilities with names being thrown around such as Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief, Paul Richardson, Taylor Gabriel, John Brown, among others. However, it’s the new crop of rookie wide receivers poised to make their marks in the NFL, where the 49ers will likely do their due diligence in combing through the prospects determining if one of these pass catchers has the necessary skill-set to succeed in Shanahan’s system. I highlight the top 5 wide receivers in play, as well as featuring a middle round sleeper and a late day three sleeper.

Top 5 Wide Receivers

Calvin Ridley - WR

Calvin Ridley, No. 3 - Alabama
Height: 6’1” | Weight: 190 | Age: 23
40 time: 4.48

Ridley’s 2017 season stats: 63 receptions for 967 yards averaging 15.3 yards per reception with 5 touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is a savvy wide receiver displaying fantastic suddenness (top-notch change of direction skills with minimal gear down) with the ability to break in and out of cuts utilizing great technique (uses hands and feet in concert to create) and short area quickness to separate. He is a fluid playmaker with excellent speed and quickness, strong reliable hands, impressive ball skills, and extremely explosive after the catch. A complete and polished all around wide receiver, Ridley is dependable in the middle of the field displaying excellent smooth, crisp, and fluid route running, and is capable of playing inside-out, showing excellent burst off the line eating ground swiftly with premier speed taking the top off coverages. Will need to improve strength to counteract at the line of scrimmage when pressed. A wide receiver running crisp clean routes and elite separation skills bodes well in a Kyle Shanahan offense.

Round Projection: 1st

Courtland Sutton - WR

Courtland Sutton, No. 16 - SMU
Height: 6’4” | Weight: 218 | Age: 22
40 time: 4.58

Sutton’s 2017 season stats: 68 receptions for 1,085 yards averaging 16 yards per reception with 12 touchdowns.

Courtland Sutton displays an excellent combination of size, speed, explosion, short area quickness, physicality, tremendous length, and athleticism. He is a nightmare match-up going up against defensive backs showcasing a large catching radius, a natural pass catcher that extends arms to make the catch plucking balls away from his body with reliable strong hands, outstanding leaping ability, excellent body control, superb ball skills, and is an ideal redzone target (a missing piece in the 49ers arsenal). Sutton is a legitimate downfield threat with deceptive speed as a long strider covering ground surprisingly fast eating cushion lulling defenders getting behind them in order to win over the top. A work in progress as a route runner, Sutton will also will need to answer questions about his speed, so look for the Combine to fill in those boxes.

Round Projection: 1st

James Washington - WR

James Washington, No. 28 - Oklahoma State
Height: 5107 | Weight: 210 | Age: 21
Arm: 33 7/8” | Hand: 9 5/8”
40 time: 4.45

Washington’s 2017 season stats: 74 receptions for 1,549 yards averaging 20.9 yards per reception with 13 touchdowns.

James Washington is a smooth dynamic playmaker on the field with a great ability to utilize suddenness, excellent technique (nice hands and feet) to break in and out of his cuts and separate from defenders. He has the desired speed to take the top off coverages eating ground extremely fast. Displays solid size and strength counteracting at the line of scrimmage when pressed. Possesses excellent ball skills and eye-hand coordination with reliable soft hands consistently making impressive catches all over the field. Shows a great ability to take a short pass and create big yards after the catch and being a constant threat to hit the home run with excellent speed. Strong work ethic and plays with tremendous toughness.

Measuring a little over 5-foot-10, Washington’s size is not ideal, but in Kyle Shanahan’s offense size is not necessarily a requirement. Speed, toughness, and reliability are key, and above all, the ability to separate and move the chains. Washington displays all those requirements in spades and would be an ideal fit for the 49ers.

Round Projection: 1st-2nd

Christian Kirk - WR

Christian Kirk, No. 3 - Texas A&M
Height: 5’11” | Weight: 200 | Age: 21
40 time: 4.39

Kirk’s 2017 season stats: 71 receptions for 919 yards averaging 12.9 yards per reception with 10 touchdowns. 22 kick returns for 490 yards averaging 22.3 yards per kick return with 1 touchdown. 10 punt returns for 191 yards averaging 19.1 yards per punt return with 1 touchdown.

Christian Kirk is as an amazing athlete with solid route running skills, good speed, tremendous quickness, explosion, agility, strength, and top-notch athleticism with quality strong hands. He shows an explosive burst off the line and is extremely quick getting in and out of his breaks with elite suddenness erupting out of his sharp and clean cuts creating separation from defenders accelerating to top speed quickly. He displays the ability to make plays taking the short pass and burst to daylight with great lateral quickness making decisive cuts without losing speed. Although he lacks the desired length for the position, Kirk showcases elite short area quickness, excellent change of direction skills, sound vision, and is extremely elusive in the open field speeding by defenders with game-breaking speed. The explosive and dynamic receiver also brings value in the return game.

Round Projection: 1st-2nd

D.J. Chark - WR

D.J. Chark, No. 7 - LSU
Height: 6025 | Weight: 196 | Age: 21
Arms: 33” | Hands: 9 1/4”
40 time: 4.39

Chark’s 2017 season stats: 40 receptions for 874 yards averaging 21.9 yards per reception with 3 touchdowns. 12 rushing attempts for 63 yards averaging 5.3 yards per rush with 1 touchdown. 18 punt returns for 190 yards averaging 10.6 yards per return with 2 touchdowns.

As one of the top deep threats in college football, D.J. Chark is a large target big-play lanky receiver showcasing elite speed, nice body control, great ball skills, impressive leaping ability, strong hands, and the over the shoulder tracking awareness to be a dynamic vertical threat downfield. He displays amazing burst off the line of scrimmage and has the quick-twitch quickness and impressive speed to blow past defenders and quickly get on top of them in a hurry, as well as a keen ability to sell deep routes.

Chark shows grit attacking balls in the middle of the field and shows the capability to take a short pass and turn it into a big gain. Shows flashes to elevate and climb the ladder at its highest point to make the grab with strong hands. He utilizes his impressive speed and athleticism to separate from defenders and is a work in progress as a route runner, but showcases nice suddenness to break in and out of cuts creating separation with the ability to turn on burners and explode and separate. Brings added value in the return game.

Chark will need to gain functional strength at the next level to counteract at the line of scrimmage when pressed, but he does possess elite speed and toughness that fits in the Shanahan system. His height at a little over 6-foot-2 tall is also an added benefit.

Round Projection: 2nd

Middle Round Sleeper

Keke Coutee - WR

Keke Coutee, No. 2 - Texas Tech
Height: 5’11” | Weight: 180 | Age: 21
40 time: 4.41

Coutee’s 2017 season stats: 93 receptions for 1,429 yards averaging 15.4 yards per reception with 10 touchdowns. 10 kick returns for 315 yards averaging 31.5 yards per kick return with 1 touchdown.

A menace in open space, Keke Coutee bursts with elite speed, fluid movement, and the suddenness to be extremely elusive. He is a true explosive playmaker capable of hitting a home run whenever he touches the ball. Coutee displays tremendous quickness, agility, and athleticism with quality hands. He has an explosive burst off the line and is extremely quick getting in and out of his breaks with elite suddenness erupting out of his cuts creating separation from defenders accelerating to top speed in a hiccup. An ideal slot receiver with the versatility to move around the formation taking advantages of his athleticism and the speed to stretch the field taking the top off coverages. Brings value in the return game as well.

Round Projection: 4th

Late Day Three Sleeper

Austin Proehl - WR

Austin Proehl, No. 7 - North Carolina
Height: 5’10” | Weight: 179
40 time: 4.56

Proehl’s 2017 season stats: In six games 21 receptions for 337 receiving yards averaging 16 yards per reception with 1 touchdown. 5 punt returns for 49 punt return yards, and averaging 9.8 yards per punt return.

Austin Proehl is a quicker than fast explosive athlete with impressive suddenness in and out of his breaks displaying fast quick feet creating continuous separation against defenders. He is a fluid and sharp route runner with a clean technique and smoothness to his game. Proehl displays great bend on breaks popping out quickly with terrific athleticism, outstanding footwork, quickness, and burst breaking away with impressive speed. Possesses NFL bloodlines (father is former NFL player Ricky Proehl), Austin is a natural pass catcher with very strong soft reliable hands (terrific hand-eye coordination) extending arms to make the catch and excellent ball skills, and is tough as nails with an excellent work ethic. Missed part of the 2017 season with a broken collarbone, but came back earlier than expected (competitive nature).

Round Projection: 6th-7th

Player measurables courtesy of team pages and All-Star games. 40 times projected.